Beat the Winter Blues with These 10 Tips
By Jaime Tollefson – January 11, 2019
For a lot of people, January is a month to destress; a time to scale back the excess and shed some of that holiday hangover. I know I don’t need to go into great detail how the end of the year causes extra anxiety. With a never-ending list of things to do, money to spend, events to attend, family to endure; and overeating of heavier foods washed down with copious amounts of alcohol really does a number on the body.
Stress is produced in the Hypothalamus in the brain, which regulates the central nervous system and the endocrine system; which release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These systems release these hormones during a flight or fight mode and continue to do so until the stress goes away. These are life-saving systems, but they weren’t meant to occur over long periods of time; say, for about two months straight? The extra adrenaline and cortisol can cause more damage long term: headaches, increased depression, heartburn, insomnia, tense muscles, rapid breathing, a weakened immune system (ever wonder why everyone gets a cold in winter?), risk of heart attack, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, a pounding heart, stomachache, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction and irregular periods.
Luckily, our bodies are also equipped with uplifting hormones that offer a much-needed solution. Ever heard of the Runner’s High? The chemicals released in your brain that give this feeling are serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. Serotonin is one of the hardest hormones for the brain to produce, and it needs Tryptophan to do so. Tryptophan occurs naturally in certain foods, but with so much processing in food, it’s even harder to get. With few of the ingredients to make serotonin and blood vessels clogging up with holiday ham, you have a basic traffic jam and serotonin gets blocked in. When the body is active in a heightened state like running for prolonged periods, the traffic jam gets cleared, allowing serotonin direct access to be released. It does take a little effort to get to those natural good-feeling drugs, but in the case of the holiday haze, I’d say it’s worth it. You don’t necessarily have to run a 5K though. Here are 10 ideas to help get you from crisis to crazy fun; even in the dead of winter.
RushTix has added a new Mindful category to help you find that perfect event that will help you to ease into a lighter January. I’ve included some links to events that coincide with these mindful endeavors.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s one of the easiest and quickest ways to get our bodies to calm down and stop pumping all that cortisol straight to the waist. There are zillions of guided meditations on your favorite podcast platform and YouTube works as well, though I avoid anything with distracting visuals. Simply breathing deeply counteracts all that heavy heart pounding, the anxiety and stress will simmer down. Shutting our brains off for 5 minutes a day adds a lot more value than it seems. Think of it as a power nap for your body that has lasting benefits throughout the day.
Similar to meditation, Yoga will encourage mindfulness and more of that deep breathing our brains love in times of physical crisis. This also gets your body moving and sweating which definitely helps flush out the toxins!
I like to call this a 3 for 1! Dancing to music brings about joy in so many ways, especially if it’s music you love (serotonin). If you’re doing a couples-coordinated dance like Swing or Square, you get the added bonus of physical touch (oxytocin) and of course, dancing is good exercise (endorphins)!
Sometimes all of the stress and anxiety adds up that a release is needed in a quieter way. If a specific incident has happened that is particularly painful or difficult, putting actual pen to paper is like a free therapist. The act of writing down thoughts and feelings has a certain tactile experience that forces the brain to think slower. Writing helps the brain logically move through a feeling, versus a sort of, digital vomit. Maybe you can get some inspiration at Mortified! (Luckily, you don’t ever have to read your writing aloud if you don’t want).
The winter blues are real; also called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). The lack of sunshine and thus Vitamin D can cause depression, fatigue and a weakened immune system (there’s that winter cold again). Laughter releases those gorgeous endorphins which directly combats cortisol and helps boost that immune system! A good way to get those chuckles is to hang out with a friend who cheers you up; maybe at a comedy event in town.
They say that pain breeds the best art. Use those winter blues to create something great. Whether its paint, pottery, some old yarn, and popsicle sticks; hey you can even paint a rock. Being creative is shown to link to dopamine and that’s the good stuff we’re after. And afterward, you’ll feel accomplished when you’ve got a sweet new paperweight on your desk to remind you that the dumps are behind you.
Sometimes on a cold dreary day, I like to curl up with a good cup of tea and a book. There’s something about turning a page that helps me to check out and enjoy a good ride of a story. The lack of LED lights on my eyes also makes it seem like I can read for hours and forget time as it passes by. Think of it like brain food, and also a great way to naturally escape the doldrums.
Research shows that listening to music helps release the feel-good hormones dopamine. There’s nothing like popping on a vinyl record to get me out of a rut of endless Netflix binging. Just switching from watching to listening forces me to get up and move around a little–maybe even dance in my socks and do a Risky Business slide across the floor. Of course, for the level up option, grab a bud and go listen to some live music! Listening to music with groups of people also creates a bond during a shared experience, which is great for busting the blues!
There’s nothing more grounding than getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city life and communing with natural surroundings. The peacefulness of the quiet trails all over the bay area has made us some really lucky inhabitants! Even if the weather is rainy, grab a raincoat and some galoshes and give yourself an excuse to go puddle jumping like in your childhood. I guarantee it will make you smile. The English say, “there is no bad weather, only poor clothing”.
In some retirement communities, organizations bring around a dog or two to promote those feel-good hormones one gets simply from stroking a dog’s fur. Studies have also shown that resting with an animal greatly reduces blood pressure and promotes a relaxed state when you feel a pet’s heartbeat close by. There are lots of adoption events where you don’t have to commit to full-time ownership, you can just pet the doggos on your way to the grocery store. Or, do your neighbor a solid and offer to walk Fido one day. I’m sure you’ll both have a great time!
Whatever you choose to beat those blues, there are lots of options to slow things down a little and maybe meet some other like-minded folks who are right there with you at many of the events here. Happy Hunting!
I am a native to the Bay Area where I have spent decades scouring the internet for that perfect event. I love smaller venues and lesser-known artists that resonate with my more sensitive side. I am a lover of music, nature, meditation, and dogs. In the hustle and bustle of the busy Bay, I am always looking for new ways to connect with my inner self and my community in more meaningful ways.
Images courtesy of Unsplash